A Novel Solution

Interesting:

Why put up costly cell phone towers in thinly populated areas, when a few balloons would do? In North Dakota, former Gov. Ed Schafer is backing a plan to loft wireless network repeaters on balloons high above the state to fill gaps in cellular coverage.

“I know it sounds crazy,” said Schafer, who now heads Extend America Inc., a wireless telecommunications company. “But it works in the lab.”

Extend America and Chandler, Ariz.-based Space Data Corp. are developing the technology, which is believed to be the first to use disposable balloons to provide cellular coverage.

A trial balloon will be launched in the next few weeks to test the idea, said Schafer, who left office in 2000 after eight years as governor.

While it is interesting, I am posting this simply because it amuses me that for the first time I remember, a story refers to a trial balloon that actually is a TRIAL BALLOON.

I am easily amused.






18 replies
  1. 1
    kenB says:

    I am easily amused

    I laughed when I read that too. I wonder if Schafer was going for the pun or if it just came out that way.

  2. 2
  3. 3
    Lines says:

    Can I volunteer Stormy to hold the balloon? She seems easily amused by shiny things, so this seems like something right up her alley.

  4. 4
    Mr.Ortiz says:

    That was amusing. It’s also the first time the sentence “it works in the lab” wasn’t a feeble attempt to save face after failing miserably in the real world.

  5. 5
    Lines says:

    Hmmm, how does a balloon that goes up some few hundred feet get tested in a lab with a 12 foot ceiling?

  6. 6
    ppGaz says:

    Hmmm, how does a balloon that goes up some few hundred feet get tested in a lab with a 12 foot ceiling?

    Doh!

  7. 7
    Katie says:

    This idea has been “floating” around for a long time. There were a bunch of experiments done with balloons in the early 90’s, both tethered and untethered. Both types were miserable failures from a technical standpoint, but they were even worse from an airspace useage/safety point of view. You also have to haul tethered balloons down fairly often to refill the helium which can get pretty labor intensive.

    Balloons are hard to test outside a lab. Even with strong tethers they tend snap cables and float away in high winds, which causes a hazard. They also build up a lot of static which interferes with their ability to transmit electronic signals, and those transmitter/receivers tend to be directional and it’s really hard to keep even a multi-tethered balloon from twisting around.

    There are some interesting things going on at Johns Hopkins and at Wright Patterson, but from the looks of it, balloons would be awfully expensive cell phone towers even if they could solve the airspace problem.

  8. 8
    neil says:

    Not that uncommon. The US’s propaganda TV network for Cuba (TV Martí) was broadcasting from a couple of weather balloons two miles over the Keys, until Hurricane Andrew knocked them over. The station is apparently still broadcasting, even though nobody watches it. Of course, it’s more for the benefit of the Miami Cubans, probably, who must get a kick out of watching shows about Castro torturing American soldiers.

  9. 9
    Aaron says:

    Interesting. My unvle has been working on something like this for several years down in San Antonio. Those are more blimps than balloons, though.

    The other wheeze was to fit them with cameras for surveillance work. Disposable spy satellites.

  10. 10
    Bruce in Alta California says:

    The other wheeze was to fit them with cameras for surveillance work.

    This experiment was quite succesful during WW I except they didn’t use cameras and had to dodge enemy biplanes. I believe they also had carrier pidgeons aboard. Most messages were to the artillery, “Right 100, add 200.”

  11. 11
    Aaron says:

    This experiment was quite succesful during WW I except they didn’t use cameras and had to dodge enemy biplanes. I believe they also had carrier pidgeons aboard. Most messages were to the artillery, “Right 100, add 200.”

    The business case is more built around selling it to countries like Canada and Australia, countries that have vast, unpopulated northern borders to look over.

    For that matter, our own border patrol might find it useful to keep out drug smugglers and illegal immigrants, at least the claustrophobic ones.

  12. 12

    […] Cole Posted by Jim Henley @ 8:39 pm, Filed under: Main « « Please Show Your Work | Main| […]

  13. 13
    srv says:

    This guy is a kook. A toaster-sized cellular transceiver system? Here’s some on the radar aerostats on the borders:

    US Tethered Aerostats

    No current uptime info. Much easier to call something a success when you don’t measure anything.

  14. 14

    “I am easily amused.”

    I thought it was pretty funny, too.

  15. 15

    It’s interesting this experiment is about to be taken outdoors just in time for the winds of springtime. I’m pretty sure North Dakota gets really windy long about the middle of next month. I predict what happens won’t be pretty, from a results standpoint.

    I also have to wonder about the hazard these things will present to aircraft. No, jetliners aren’t likely to run into them, unless some balloons break their tethers near enough to an airport. But then there are crop dusters, choppers and ultralights that fly low and go all over the place.

  16. 16
    tzs says:

    Eh, make the balloons big and shiny enough, make them permanent, and make sure the wires have enough glittery stuff all over them to be visible.

    I’ve seen aviation maps with indications of tethered balloons on them already. As long as you don’t try to put them everywhere there’s not much difference than a transmission tower.

  17. 17
    Tony Alva says:

    A cellular telephone call is made possible by seamless “handoff’s” from one transeiver base to another. No matter which protocol is being deployed (CDMA, TDMA, GSM, etc..), the handoff parameters loaded into these cellular radios are very precise and require fixed position to enable the constant measurement of signal strength and relative position of the mobile unit (all digital systems use GPS to do this triangulation calculation). While not impossible, managing this RF variable while both the basestation and mobile unit are in flux is pretty hard, and I’m not sure the technology exists. Although the article states the use of repeaters vs. base stations attached to these balloons, this scenario seems highly unlikely to work today.

  18. 18
    BIRDZILLA says:

    And GREENPEACE as well as AL GORE will provide the HOT AIR to keep the balloons aloft

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